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Trump Reportedly Orders Strike On Iran, Then Calls Off Attack Plan

President Trump reportedly reconsidered a plan to strike at Iran over its downing of an RQ-4 Global Hawk, like this drone seen at the Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota.
U.S. Central Command/Screenshot by NPR
President Trump reportedly reconsidered a plan to strike at Iran over its downing of an RQ-4 Global Hawk, like this drone seen at the Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota.

Multiple news outlets are reporting that President Trump approved airstrikes on Iran Thursday after Iran shot down a U.S. drone — but that the White House called off the strike operation after it began. NPR has not been able to independently confirm those reports.

The White House has not responded to the reports that the U.S. military was in the process of retaliating against Iran when it was ordered to halt the operation.

Trump's pullback of the strike plan was first reported by The New York Times, which described how military and diplomatic officials had been expecting the attack to proceed as last as 7 p.m. ET.

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Citing multiple senior Trump administration officials, the Times reports, "Planes were in the air and ships were in position, but no missiles had been fired when word came to stand down."

The senior officials who spoke to the Times declined to comment on why the operation was aborted, or whether it might still get the green light. Other news outlets, such as the Associated Press and The Wall Street Journal, also confirmed the officials' description of events.

When NPR's Franco Ordonez asked a senior administration official to confirm or comment on the story, the official's response was, "We do not comment on pre-operational military planning."

The president referred to the Times in his first tweet of the day Friday, but he did not mention the Iran airstrike report. Instead, he accused the newspaper of "feeding false stories about me, & those associated with me, to the FBI."

As Trump discussed potential U.S. responses to Iran's action around midday Thursday, he sent something of a mixed message.

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"You'll soon find out" if the U.S. is planning a strike on Iran, Trump told reporters, reiterating that Iran had made a "very big mistake."

But the president also seemed open to the idea that the mistake may not have been an intentional act by Iran's leaders or its military.

"I have a feeling that it was a mistake made by somebody that shouldn't have been doing what they did," Trump said. He added that "it could have been someone loose and stupid."

Trump also said that it made a "big, big difference" that the RQ-4 Global Hawk surveillance drone was unmanned.

Reports of the aborted strike on Iran come as Iranian media outlets aired video that purportedly shows the drone shootdown from the ground in Iran, with a surface-to-air missile battery firing a missile into the night sky.

Iranian media also released images of what they describe as parts of the U.S. drone that it says were "retrieved from Iranian waters."

The U.S. and Iran disagree on where the drone was when it was shot down. Iran says the spy craft had intruded on its airspace around Kouhmobarak district in the country's south, near the Gulf of Oman. According to Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, the Global Hawk had taken off from the United Arab Emirates and "violated Iranian airspace."

But the U.S. flatly rejects that description, with Lt. Gen. Joseph Guastella, commander of U.S. Air Forces Central Command, saying the drone "had not violated Iranian airspace at any time during its mission."

Guastella said the U.S. drone was flying 34 kilometers away from Iran's coast when the Revolutionary Guard shot it down.

Guastella also said the missile attack on the drone was irresponsible, saying it took place "in the vicinity of established air corridors, possibly endangering innocent civilians."

Citing the "inadvertent risk" Iran's air defense systems could pose to commercial airlines, Friday morning, the Federal Aviation Administration has banned U.S. airlines from flying in area of Iranian-controlled airspace over the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman, in the same area where Iran shot down the drone.

The FAA's decision came after United Airlines suspended one of its longest passenger routes, a direct flight between Mumbai, India, and Newark, N.J., which often passes through Iranian airspace. The airline tells NPR says that it made the change out of safety concerns, "given current events in Iran."

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